Feb 28, 2011

Tradecraft: Universal Picks Up Tinker, Tailor For U.S. Distribution

Deadline reports that Universal has acquired Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson's new adaptation of the John Le Carré spy classic, for distribution in the United States. The film was produced by SudioCanal and Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner's UK company Working Title, who have a long history with Universal, but the studio initially chose not to act on its first look deal.  Instead, when the movie got hot thanks to a cast including Gary Oldman, Benedict CumberbatchTom Hardy and freshly-minted Best Actor Oscar winner Colin Firth, and The Weinstein Company and Summit got into a bidding war, Universal came back into the picture and snapped it up.  According to the trade blog, Universal is eyeing a November or December release, and "word is the film’s a tour de force for Oldman." That frame would position the actor perfectly for an Oscar campaign of his own next year. It will also put it in direct competition at the box office with the other 2011 spy movie I'm most looking forward to, Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.  StudioCanal will release the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in the UK and much of Europe, and is still shopping the rights for the rest of the world. I'm just happy to know that the film's American distribution is locked down now! I would have hated for it to be one of those iffy ones that doesn't get a proper release here.

Feb 25, 2011

Tradecraft: Ethan Hawke's Spy Team Comes Together

Deadline reports that two more members of Ethan Hawke's Mission: Impossible-like team of specialists-cum-spies have been cast on Fox's Exit Strategy.  British Elyes Gabel (a veteran of UK series Identity and The Dead Set) will play the Iranian-born Tarik, whom the trade blog describes as "an expert in vehicular transportation" (I don't know if that's their phrasing or the show's, but it sure beats "driver!") and Lina Esco (Heroes) will play "sassy South Boston girl Mia, an MIT graduate and computer expert." In other words, this team's Barney Collier. Hawke plays team leader Erik Shaw (filling the shoes of the late, great Peter Graves), and Megan Dodds was already cast as the team's doctor (filling the shoes, I suppose, of young Sam Elliott). Antoine Fuqua directs the pilot.

Exit Strategy unfolds in real time and follows this team of specialists as they clean up the CIA's worst messes and extract agents in very bad (dare I say... impossible?) situations week after week.  Right now, it looks like the CIA could use Erik Shaw and his people in real life to extract Agency contractor Ray Davis, currently sitting in jail in Pakistan on murder charges facing a possible death penalty, despite his diplomatic credentials. There's an interesting article on The Washington Post's excellent Spy Talk blog wherein former spooks discuss possible exfiltration scenarios to rescue Davis. All the non-diplomatic possibilities sound pretty preposterous... just like the stuff of Hollywood.  (One source even tells reporter Jeff Stein, "The more you think about it, the more it seems like Mission Impossible silliness.”) Presumably Exit Strategy producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and writer David Guggenheim are taking notes!

Exit Strategy is shaping up to be the new spy series I'm most looking forward to. I love the Mission: Impossible team dynamic, and if the actual Mission: Impossible franchise isn't going to use it in the Tom Cruise movies, someone else might as well do so.  The only thing I'm apprehensive of is the real-time aspect. Thankfully it will be different from 24 because each hour will occur on a totally different day and place rather than connecting together to form one long, very bad day, but it still might come off as less than original following that show's eight-season run. More worryingly, it could also become creatively limiting in later seasons, as it did on 24. Hopefully not, though...
Tradecraft: Who Will Accept The Bourne Legacy? 

This isn't really news, but I guess any traction on a new Bourne film is worth reporting. According to Deadline, pretty much every good-looking actor between the ages of 21 and 35 is being considered as the lead in the next Bourne movie. You probably assumed that already, right?  Of course you did.  Remember, as we've heard many times before, this new lead actor won't actually be playing the same character Matt Damon played; he'll be playing another character, making this film a spinoff rather than a sequel.  Which seems really stupid to me, but I guess I should wait and see where writer/director Tony Gilroy goes with this; he has a good track record.  But can you imagine if EON had said that George Lazenby would be playing 009 or 0011 instead of 007 after Sean Connery left the franchise, in hopes that Connery would come back later? History might have played out more or less the same with Connery returning once more, but the best film in the series would have been ruined! The point is, you don't need to change the character to change the actor. Just give us another Jason Bourne (by which I mean the David Webb Jason Bourne) instead of another character who's clearly treading water while the studio prays for Damon to return. Anyway. Deadline's Mike Fleming offers a laundry list of hot young actors on Universal's wish list here. I'm not going to repeat the whole list because you can probably guess them all anyway, and it doesn't mean anything till someone's actually cast. Two interesting (non-Gemini) contenders on opposite ends of the age spectrum with previous movie spy experience include Alex Pettyfer and Michael Fassbender. I admit, there's something amusing about the idea of Alex Rider stepping into Robert Ludlum's world... but not that amusing.

Feb 24, 2011

Transporter TV Series Comes to Cinemax

We've been following EuropaCorp's development of a TV series based on their successful Transporter series of neo-Eurospy films for a while now, and last we heard (in December), the company had scored an American network but not yet announced which one.  Today, The New York Post reports that it's cable channel Cinemax.  A few weeks ago we heard that Cinemax was venturing into the world of scripted series that has proved so lucrative for other cable outlets, including their sibling company HBO, with an American version of the UK spy/action series Strike Back.  Apparently that's part of an aggressive strategy on the part of HBO to reshape Cinemax from the soft-core skin flick venue unofficially known (as far back as my childhood) as "Skinemax" into what the newspaper calls "a channel for tire-squealing shoot-'em-ups -- with a good measure of sex thrown in, of course."  The network still hasn't made any official announcements about the series or its creative talent, but the Stargate fan website GateWorld speculates that longtime Stargate writer-producers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie are in talks to be involved in some capacity on the Trasnporter show.  It seems highly unlikely that Jason Statham will be involved at all with the series, and as of now it's unknown whether another actor will play his signature role of Frank Martin or if the TV version will focus on a different transporter altogether.  (The third film revealed that the profession is not quite as unique as one would think.)  I love the Transporter films, and while I think that Statham is the best part of them, I do think that the franchise has potential without him as a TV show--especially with European filming locations, which have been part of the package all along thanks to Luc Besson's Paris-base EuropaCorp. I've had Cinemax as part of my cable package for a long time because it was bundled with channels I actually watch, but I don't think I've ever tuned in.  Looks like that's about to change!
Tradecraft: Ashley Judd is the Female Liam Neeson In New ABC Spy Series

Deadline reports that Ashley Judd is "close to a deal" to play Becca Winstone, a highly-skilled former CIA agent who heads off to Europe in order to find her missing teenage son (presumably prepared to tear down the Eiffel Tower if she has to) in the previously announced ABC spy series Missing.  Furthermore, the trade blog reveals that the series, which was originally slated for summer, has been moved back to a fall premiere.  To me, the fact that the premise seems awfully similar to Taken is not a bad thing.  Especially not when the series is shooting in Rome, Vienna and Prague!  For real!  When's the last time an American spy show actually shot overseas, and didn't simply redress the same Burbank locations to stand in for all those places?  (I Spy, maybe?) I look forward to seeing the 42-year-old Judd channel some of the (then) 58-year-old Neeson's world-weary badassery. Read more about Missing (which was previously known as Hall of Mirrors) here.

Feb 23, 2011

The Kremlin Letter Soundtrack Now Available

Robert Drasnin's score to John Huston's all-star 1970 spy movie The Kremlin Letter gets its world-premiere release this week from Intrada, in an edition strictly limited to 1000 units.  Fans of Drasnin's prolific spy TV work, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible and The Wild, Wild West, will no doubt be elated to finally have the opportunity to finally hear this rare feature foray into the genre. (Daughter of the Mind was another.) Drasnin himself carefully oversaw the production of this CD, mastered from the original quarter-inch two-track tapes. The 42-minute disc contains the complete score in stereo.  The Kremlin Letter score is available to order now in the $20 range from both BuySoundtrax.com (where you can listen to samples) and Screen Archives Entertainment.  The soundtrack release coincides with the movie's Region 1 DVD debut on Fox's new Twilight Time limited edition label.  That disc (limited to 3000 units), which was originally scheduled for late January release but failed to materialize, is now finally available to pre-order from Screen Archives as well (they're the exclusive distributor), and expected to ship in mid-March.
Trailer For Network's ITC Blu-Ray Collections

Network posted a trailer on YouTube last week for their previously announced upcoming Region B Retro-Action Blu-ray collections, which will contain sample episodes from a whole bunch of Sixties and Seventies ITC spy/adventure series including The Saint, Return of the Saint, Danger Man, The Persuaders!, The Champions, The Prisoner and more.

I love it!  I love it, I love it, I love it!  This montage not only shows off what you'll get on these releases, but captures everything that I love about Sixties ITC adventure series.I could watch it all day.

Feb 21, 2011

Upcoming Spy CDs: I Spy: Volume 2

Although it's been years since the release of the excellent first volume, Film Score Monthly surprised and delighted spy fans today by officially announcing I Spy: Volume 2—The LPs for release later this week. Whereas the first volume contained complete episode scores, this one (as the title implies) will mark the CD debut of the two LPs released in the Sixties (one on Warner Bros; the other on Capitol). A reversible cover will reflect the artwork from both records. It's great to see FSM dipping back into the I Spy well, as Earle Hagen's music is one of the best things about the series!  I do hope that if this one sells well they'll consider more episode score releases in the future.  I Spy: Volume 2—The LPs will be out this Thursday, February 24, and available to order from Screen Archives Entertainment starting at 1PM EST.

Feb 18, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Covert Affairs

TV Shows On DVD reports that USA's summer hit Covert Affairs (which made my own list of the best new spy TV shows of 2010) will hit DVD on May 17.  Covert Affairs stars Piper Perabo as freshman CIA officer Annie Walker. While there are some of the soap opera elements that have haunted the genre since Alias, it's mainly a spy show as workplace dramady.  I've always been a fan of the "desk" side of the spy drama, and I think Covert Affairs handles the office politics better than any other US spy series I can think of.  Certainly better than the histrionics of CTU!  Of course, this is still a USA show, which means it's also got its share of in-the-field excitement as well.  It's a solid, fairly believable character-driven espionage series. 

No extras have been announced for this release, but I hope that changes.  With a show like this that goes out of its way more than most to depict a fairly realistic CIA, I'd love to see some featurettes about that attention to detail and attempts at realism.  I'd also like to see an interview or hear a commentary with the show's technical advisor (and obvious inspiration for Kari Matchett's character), Valerie Plame-Wilson, who has already recorded a commentary track for the DVD release of Doug Liman's movie about her, Fair Game (review here). Liman also produces Covert Affairs.

Covert Affairs: Season 1, a 3-disc set, will retail for $59.98, but obviously it will be findable cheaper than that.  This artwork is a mock-up, subject (and likely) to change. 

Read my review of the Covert Affairs pilot here.

Feb 17, 2011

Tradecraft: Exit Strategy Recruits Spies From MI-5

Deadline reports that Megan Dodds has been cast opposite Ethan Hawke in what sounds like the most promising new spy series of next season, Fox's Mission: Impossible meets 24 real-time drama Exit Strategy.  Like Mission: ImpossibleExit Strategy follows a team of five experts in different fields employed to untangle the CIA's most impossible missions.  Like 24, the action unfolds in real time.  (The hours take place days apart and in different locations, however; not over the course of a single day in a single place.)  Hawke has been attached since December as team leader Eric Shaw; Dodds is the first additional team member to be cast.  According to the trade blog, she will play "Dr. Hannah Burke, the medic on the team who has a genius-level IQ,  trusts no one and appears to have a romantic connection with Shaw."  This isn't Dodds' first foray into spying.  She played the CIA's London Station Chief, Christine Dale, on Season 2 of Spooks (aka MI-5).  On that series, she "appeared to have a romantic connection" with Matthew Macfadyen's Tom Quinn, but the spark didn't have a chance to develop.  Like most CIA characters on Spooks, her American accent sounded a little dodgy... which was why I was shocked to discover that she actually is an American, born in California!  I suppose living in London for a while messes with your accent, whether you're a CIA officer or an actress.  Still, I really liked her on Spooks and I'm glad to see her on another spy series.  No word on what accent her character will have on Exit Strategy. Dodds also appeared with Daniel Craig in Sword of Honor.

As previously reported, Antoine Fuqua directs the pilot. Exit Strategy is produced by the prolific team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Alias, Mission: Impossible 3), and created by David Guggenheim (Safe House).

Feb 16, 2011

Tradecraft: Joffe Scripts Agent Zigzag For Mike Newell and Tom Hanks

It's been nearly two years since we last heard any development on the Tom Hanks-produced film of Ben Macintyre's Agent Zigzag, a non-fiction account of WWII triple agent Eddie Chapman that was set up at New Line back in 2007 after the book sparked a bidding war.  At that time, Race to Witch Mountain scribe Mark Bomback was penning the adaptation—and entertainment news still came from printed trade journals like Variety. Now it's trade blogs like Deadline, which reports that Rowan Joffe, who scripted the George Clooney assassin drama The American (review here), is now scripting Agent Zigzag.  Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is still attached to direct, though he's also considering other projects (including another fact-based spy tale, about Alexander Litvinenko).  The story of Edward Arnold Chapman—a charming criminal who was trained by the Germans to spy on the British, but instead offered his services as a double agent to the British—previously inspired the 1966 spy movie Triple Cross, directed by James Bond auteur Terrence Young and starring Christopher Plummer, Gert Frobe, Claudine Auger and Romy Schneider.  This new version has a Bond connection of its own: Ben Macintyre also wrote the book For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond.

Feb 14, 2011

Tim Lucas Covers Fantomas

If you're at all interested in Fantomas, that weird masked criminal of French pulp fiction, silent serials and Sixties Eurospy/Costumed Adventurer romps, you should definitely check out Tim Lucas's fascinating overview of the character's literary incarnation at Video WatchBlog.  I'm a big fan of the Sixties films (which were directed by OSS 117 auteur André Hunebelle) and the serial, but I have to admit I've never read any of the books.  Lucas makes them sound quite cool!  Of particular interest to spy fans will be Lucas's coverage of the 1911 novel L'Agent Secret (first published in America in 1917 as A Nest of Spies), which he calls "arguably the smoking gun behind Fritz Lang's Spione (US: Spies, 1928), James Bond, and all the spy entertainment we enjoy to this day."  Among other now-familiar conventions of the genre, the novel features a spy gadget that silently shoots a small pin into its victim's heart. Surprisingly, there is an edition of A Nest of Spies currently in print, though I'm not sure which of the different texts Lucas discusses this one includes. It's also available very cheaply for the Kindle in a few different versions.

Fantomas returns to cinemas this year (supposedly) in a big budget film directed by Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) and starring Vincent Cassel and Jean Reno.

Feb 13, 2011

BMW Concept Car Debuts in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

The next Mission: Impossible movie, directed by The Incredibles' Brad Bird and produced by J.J. Abrams, already boasts a pretty impressive cast including Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Josh HollowayMichael Nyqvist, Lea Seydoux, Anil Kapoor and of course Tom Cruise.  Now the BMW Blog reveals another intriguing new star in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol: the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics hybrid concept car.  BMW describes the exotic looking car as a "near-production-ready vehicle ... combining the performance of a BMW M model with the fuel consumption and emissions of a modern small car."  While you'd think that a jacknife doored space car that's not even on the roads yet (and may well never be) would be a tad inconspicuous as a spy car, when the car in question is that cool looking, I'm sure not going to complain!  (And we're not even sure it will be Ethan Hunt driving this thing.)  There's precedent for it, anyway: when Casino Royale was made in 2006, the Aston Martin DBS wasn't on the market yet, but that didn't stop Her Majesty's Secret Service from getting their hands on one.  The blog reports that the prototype car has been spotted on the film's set in Vancouver (and has the picture to prove it) and was also seen in Abu Dhabi around the time the production was filming there late last year.  Perhaps self-confessed gearhead Tom Cruise has a particular agenda to promote hybrid sports cars in his film; Knight and Day featured a memorable chase sequence involving Smart Roadsters (and bulls).

The BMW Blog also reports that the fourth Mission: Impossible film will also feature some of the company's latest 6-series models.

Read more about the BMW Vision EfficientDynamic concept car here, and watch a nifty 3D animation of it.
Upcoming Spy DVDs: The Tourist

DVD Active reports that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release The Tourist on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray/DVD Comboon March 22nd. Extras on the DVD will include a commentary with director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the featurettes "A Gala Affair" and "Bringing Glamour Back" and an outtake reel. The really interesting sounding featurettes, unfortunately, are reserved exclusively for the Blu-ray releases, which will include all that other stuff as well as the additional featurettes "Canal Chats," "Action in Venice" and "Tourist Destination - Travel the Canals of Venice." Venice was the real star of the movie (well, excepting Timothy Dalton, that is, who's the real star of anything he's in), so it's a pity you have to own a Blu-ray player to learn more about it. Retail is $28.95 for the DVD, $34.95 for the BDand $38.96 for the combo, but of course they're all available to pre-order much cheaper than that on Amazon and other sites.

Feb 12, 2011

Tradecraft: Mirren Spy Movie The Debt Gets Distribution

Deadline reports that The Debt finally has a distributor.  I know I covered this movie here a long time ago, when it was first announced, but I can't find that post.  Suffice it to say, it was completed a while ago and has been a victim of Miramax's uncertain future, sitting on a shelf despite a very fine pedigree.  Now the Miramax situation has been resolved, and Focus Features and Universal Pictures International will release director John Madden's espionage thriller on August 31, 2011.  The story of The Debt, crafted by screenwriters Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class) and Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and adapted from the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov, unfolds in two time periods: the Sixties and today.  (Have I ever mentioned how much I love spy movies set in the Sixties?)  Spy veterans Helen Mirren (RED), Tom Wilkinson (The Ghost Writer) and Ciarán Hinds (Munich) play a trio of retired Mossad agents in the present, while Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) play the same characters in 1966, when they were active operatives tasked with capturing a Nazi war criminal (Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace's Jesper Christensen, who certainly looks the part!) in East Berlin.  "At great risk, and at considerable personal cost," according to the Focus press release, "the team’s mission was accomplished – or was it? The suspense builds in and across two different time periods, with startling action and surprising revelations."  The rather awesome trailer has been out for a while:

X-Men: First Class Trailer

Fox released the teaser trailer this week for X-Men: First Class.  If you're wondering why that bears mention on a spy blog, read up on Matthew Vaughn's Avengers and James Bond-inspired, Sixties-set superhero movie here and here so I don't have to recap it all again!  This teaser doesn't wallow in Sixties period detail and style quite as much as I would have liked, but it does give a good sense of the tone of the film... and I like it.  Can't wait to see more! (There is one brief shot of January Jones' Emma Frost in her sexy White Queen costume inspired by Diana Rigg's famous Queen of Sin outfit from the Avengers episode "A Touch of Brimstone," but be sure not to blink or you'll miss it! Pause the video right before she uses her mutant powers to turn into diamond.)

Superseven: Cool Fake Eurospy/Costumed Adventurer Trailer

Remember that Costumed Adventurer Week I did a few years ago examining that curious subgenre of Eurospy movies in which the spy heroes wear tights? Of course you do! (And if you don't, you really ought to check it out, here.) Well, Eurospy Forum member Bob Griffith has put together a trilogy of trailers for a fake Costumed Adventurer (or fumetti/fumetti neri) character called "Superseven" using cleverly selected clips from real Eurospy and Costumed Adventurer movies. Check out the latest one, Superseven in 8 Spies Too Many, here—and then poke around and watch the previous ones. See how many clips you can identify. Some of them stand out a little too much, like the iconic bikini/speargun scene from Deadlier Than the Male, but others are much harder to place. You'll probably recognize a lot from the Superargo movies and maybe a few from OSS 117 films, but my favorite is the climactic helicopter scene from the Roger Moore film Crossplot. There are dozens more. Check it out! All that reminds me: I really need to do another Costumed Adventurer Week...

Feb 11, 2011

Casino Royale's Tobias Menzies Plays Ian Fleming on PBS This Weekend

Early last year, we learned that Britain's Channel 4 was making a miniseries based on William Boyd's novel Any Human Heart, which features Ian Fleming and other historical figures as a supporting characters. At the time, there was no information on who would play Fleming and the project fell off my radar.  It played in the UK last autumn, but I didn't read anything about it at the time.  Now Any Human Heart will air in the US on PBS's Masterpiece (just coming off the truly fantastic Downton Abbey) in three parts beginning this weekend.  And James Bond author Fleming (in his wartime Naval Intelligence days) is played by Tobias Menzies, the actor who played M's assistant Villiers (sort of a mash-up of Moneypenny and Bill Tanner) in Casino Royale!  He also narrated a number of remarkable "background materials" in a dossier telling the story of Daniel Craig's Bond's pre-00 career on that film's website. Menzies is probably most famous in America, though, for his role as Brutus on HBO's Rome.  I wouldn't have pegged him as Fleming, but I have to admit that he does kind of look the part in that still from the series.

Any Human Heart follows a writer named Logan Mountstuart as his life intersects with a number of famous figures, including Fleming, Ernest Hemingway (Julian Ovenden), Wallis Simpson (Gillian Anderson) and her husband the Duke of Windsor (Tom Hollander). Mountstuart is played at different points during his life by Sam Claflin, Spooks/MI-5's Matthew Macfadyen and Jim Broadbent.  Hayley Atwell (one of the few highlights of the 2009 Prisoner remake) also stars.  I believe that Menzies' Fleming will only appear in the second segment, when he assigns Macfadyen's Mountstuart to a wartime spy mission involving Wallis and Edward, but I could be wrong.  (Mitch Silver's novel In Secret Service, published after Boyd's, also concocted an espionage plot involving Fleming, Simpson and the former monarch... though not very successfully.)  The first part airs this weekend on most PBS stations, but you'll have to check your local listings. After that, it should be available to watch online on the Masterpiece website for a while, and the DVD comes out on April 5. You can watch a short trailer on the Masterpiece website.
Tradecraft: Jason Statham Circles Echelon

Wow, this is the week for movies and TV about former British special forces troops turned secret agents.  Hot on the heels of yesterday's news about Cinemax remaking the UK TV series based on former SAS operative Chris Ryan's Strike Back comes news that Jason Statham is circling a film adaptation of a novel by Ryan's former SAS commander, Andy McNab.  (Both were veterans of a disastrous operation known as Bravo Two Zero, which was chronicled in a film starring Sean Bean.) Deadline reports that Statham is close to signing on to a movie called Echelon based on McNab's book Firewall.  Obviously, production company Hyde Park/Imagenation Abu Dhabi couldn't call the movie that because of the 2006 Harrison Ford film, but Echelon's kind of an overused title in the development world already! We've heard about The Echelon Vendetta (currently in development), Echelon Conspiracy and NBC's in-the-works TV series ECHELON. Ever since the NSA's massive electronic eavesdropping apparatus ECHELON went online, it's fascinated film and television writers as much as it's fascinated privacy advocates.

In this take on ECHELON, to be directed by Simon Crane (stunt coordinator on Salt and The Tourist) the software itself is the MacGuffin. Statham would play Nick Stone (a role to which Eric Bana was previously attached), a former SAS operative (of course) and freelance intelligence agent who finds himself caught between Russian gangsters and American and British agents when a mission in Helsinki goes bad.  I've never read a McNab book, but Helsinki is one of my favorite backdrops for a good spy story, and after watching him flit around the periphery of the spy genre for so long with films like The Bank Job and the Transporter series, it would be mighty nice to see Jason Statham in a real secret agent role. So I hope this movie happens!

Feb 10, 2011

Tradecraft: Jim Caviezel Stars in Yet Another J.J. Abrams Spy Pilot

Lest you fear that there would be no J.J. Abrams-produced spy series on the fall schedule after the failure of Undercovers, take heart: of course there is.  And this time it's created by The Dark Knight co-writer Jonah Nolan, brother (and frequent collaborator) of Christopher Nolan. 

Deadline reports that that Jim Caviezel will star alongside Lost's Michael Emerson.  Hopefully Emerson's unbridled charisma (creepy charisma), which was on full display throughout Lost, will be enough to make up for Caviezel's utter lack thereof, which was on full display throughout the 2009 Prisoner miniseries

According to the trade blog, Person of Interest "centers on  ex-CIA agent Reese (Caviezel), presumed dead, who teams up with reclusive billionaire Finch (Michael Emerson) to prevent violent crimes in New York City." So... it's like The Equalizer (or Burn Notice) with unlimited funding?
Tradecraft: Cinemax Strikes Back With Scripted Spy Series

According to Deadline, HBO's sister network Cinemax is finally entering the original scripted television arena that's been so profitable for other pay cable channels.  Only their new "scripted original" isn't that original; it's a remake of a UK spy series that debuted last year, Strike BackThe British Strike Back was a 6-episode series for the Sky satellite network based on a novel by former SAS operative Chris Ryan.  This is actually the first I've heard of it, but it sounds pretty good, like an attempt to revive the tough guy action genre of The Professionals or Saracen. In that version, Richard Armitage switches allegiances from MI-5 (Spooks) to MI-6 as John Porter, an ex-SAS man turned agent for MI-6's Section 20. The show was shot in South Africa, whose deserts doubled for Iraq, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. 

For the American version, Cinemax will team up with Sky to produce a 10-episode series (inspired by the television format, and not the original novel), again shooting in South Africa (as well as Hungary).  Armitage will not be involved. Instead, the Antipodean Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom) will play Damien Scott, "a charismatic former U.S. Special Forces operative who teams up with a British military unit led by Section 20 officer Michael Stonebridge (Fringe's Philip Winchester) to stop an international terrorist group." Daniel Percival, who directed the bulk of the original Sky series (as well as other spy stuff like The State Within and Dirty War), will be involved with the new version in a directing capacity as well; X-Files vet Frank Spotnitz and EastEnders writer Richard Zadjlic (huh?) are the showrunners. 

So... the new series is a US/UK co-production that retains some of the original creative team, but not the lead actor or lead character?  And instead of replacing him with an American, they replace him with an Australian playing an American?  Who's still working for MI-6, and not for an American covert squad? That's... weird.  Why not just stick with Armitage?  It's not like Sullivan Stapleton is any better known here in the States.  I'm not quite sure if this series is supposed to occupy the same world as the original one.  Perhaps there's the prospect of crossover down the line?  If it's not the same world, I would think it would be confusing when co-producer Sky airs the new version.  And what does this mean for a potential second series of Armitage's version?  I guess we'll have to wait and see.  In the meantime, I'm going to make sure to check out the first one, which is available on PAL DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk.  Mind you, I'm not complaining about the new one, just making observations. In my book, there's always room for a new spy show on American television--especially one shot on location in Europe and Africa!

UPDATE:
Read my full review of Chris Ryan's Strike Back (the original UK version) here.
Read my review of Strike Back (the Cinemax version) here.

Feb 8, 2011

Mission: Impossible Stars Shanghai Director Brad Bird

Deadline has linked to this video that might interest fans of the Mission: Impossible films.  Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol director Brad Bird accepts his Windsor McCay Award at the 38th Annual Annies via video link from the set of the latest entry in the spy film franchise.  Stars Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg make humorous appearances toward the end of the segment, following a reel of highlights from Bird's impressive career in animation (including clips from The Simpsons, Iron Giant and the heavily Bond-inspired The Incredibles). The silliness starts around the four-and-a-half minute mark.

The Man With the Golden Career

Deadline reports that Christopher Lee is finally getting some of the recognition he so rightfully deserves.  This Sunday, "the British Academy of Film and Television Arts will present Sir Christopher Lee with the Academy Fellowship at the Orange British Academy Film Awards ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House. Awarded annually by the Academy, the Fellowship is the highest accolade bestowed upon an individual in recognition of an outstanding and exceptional contribution to film." Previous recipients include Sir Sean Connery, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Stephen Spielberg and Dame Judi Dench, so Francisco Scaramanga is in good company.  Besides playing a Bond villain, Lee's spy career includes two guest turns on The Avengers and a handful of villainous roles in obscure TV movies (Once Upon a Spy) and Eurospy flicks (Five Golden Dragons). If that seems surprisingly skimpy for one of the most prolific actors in film history, it's more than made up for by the fact that Lee's pre-acting career included a real spy career in military intelligence during WWII! Now if only BAFTA's American counterpart, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, would recognize Sir Christopher's amazing career with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar...

Feb 6, 2011

Tradecraft: Robin Sparkle, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel is expanding the roster of cinematic S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Deadline reports that How I Met Your Mother's Cobie Smulders is close to landing the role of Agent Maria Hill in The Avengers. (Usual caveat when talking about this movie: it's based on the Marvel comic book that stole that name, and has nothing to do with the TV show everyone reading this blog knows to be the real Avengers... but it still sounds cool!) According to an interview Samuel L. Jackson (who plays Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D.) gave to Jimmy Fallon last week, the 29-year-old actress will play his "sidekick" in the film.  However, comic readers will be aware that Hill eventually goes on to replace Fury as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. herself... but presumably that moment is a long way off in the film universe.

Personally, I was rooting for Firefly's Morena Baccarin to re-team with that show's creator and director of The Avengers, Joss Whedon, for the role (she's already got the Maria Hill haircut for her part in V!), but Smulders is good too.  According to the trade blog, she was Whedon's choice to play Wonder Woman back when he was developing a Wonder Woman movie that never came to be. Smulders will join an expanding line-up of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that already includes Jackson along with Scarlet Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, the only one of these characters created specifically for the movie universe and not taken from the comics. (I wish he was playing Jasper Sitwell instead, but oh well.)

Feb 4, 2011

Spy Exclusives at Best Buy

These are kind of hard to keep track of on their release dates because they're not very well advertised or promoted, but a few spy movies have popped up on Blu-ray as Best Buy exclusives in the last month: Shane Black's female spin on Bourne, The Long Kiss Good Night (a quintessential 90s action movie with all the baggage that entails) and John Frankenheimer's original Manchurian Candidate join last year's double-feature disc of Spies Like Us as spy Blu-rays you can only find at Best Buy.  Retail seems to be in the $10-15 range. 

Feb 2, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs: The Edward Woodward Hour

In addition to the upcoming release of the Callan reunion telefilm "Wet Job" (still not officially announced, but available to pre-order on Amazon), it looks like Network has another treat for Callan fans up its sleeve.  It's The Edward Woodward Hour, and Edward Woodward variety show from the Seventies.  Yes, you read that right.  I think Network can do a better job of explaining it than I, so I'll let them do their thing. But don't give up now, Callan fans; be sure to read through.  There really is a spy aspect to this odd release!
Though primarily known as a serious actor, drama was only one of the strings to Edward Woodward’s bow. A significant proportion of his stage work included musicals and music-themed shows, gaining him a Variety Club award for the Best Performance in a Musical. Singing was undoubtedly one of the great loves of his life, and his strong tenor voice graced numerous best-selling albums – the enthusiasm for his work shining through.

With the success of Callan, Woodward became a household name – this popularity giving him the chance to show his lighter side in three light entertainment specials in the early 1970s for Thames Television. Sadly only the first one still remains in the archive, but it ably showcases Woodward’s whimsical side; jokes and music abound, while his guests in this show include Beryl Reid, Patrick Cargill and Russell Hunter. The highlight of the show, however, is the Callan vs Father, Dear Father sketch – something that no self-respecting Callan fan can be without!
Callan vs. Father, Dear Father sketch??? The tense Woodward spy drama versus the Patrick Cargill sitcom?  What the who? I can't imagine what that is, but this I've got to see! Unfortunately, the original transmission master for this surviving special no longer exists, so Network has used an off-air recording, meaning that the quality won't be top-notch, but at least we'll have the opportunity to see this weird obscurity!

The Edward Woodward Hour, a PAL Region 2 DVD, will be available on March 28. Retail is £15.31, but it will be available from Network's website for £9.18. (Odd price points.)
Bardem Confirms Bond Talks

Javier Bardem confirmed to the Los Angeles Times (via Hollywood Reporter) that he is, indeed, in talks to play the antagonist in Bond 23, as previously reported.  The Oscar-winning actor has met with director Sam Mendes to discuss the role, and he's definitely intrigued (he says he's a life-long Bond fan himself), but he's waiting to read the script before he commits.  “They’re changing the whole thing, the whole dynamic,” Bardem tells te newspaper. “I’d be playing Bond’s nemesis, yes, but it’s not that obvious. Everything is more nuanced. It’s very intriguing.”  I'm thrilled that he sounds so open to it!  Here's hoping John Logan's script seals the deal.
Tradecraft: Steve Zaillian Returns to Jack Ryan (Updated)

Deadline reports that Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List) is the latest writer to try his hand at Paramount's Jack Ryan franchise reboot set to star Chris Pine.  The in-demand, Oscar-winning screenwriter is no stranger to the spy genre in general or to Tom Clancy's hero in particular; his spy filmography includes The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), Misison: Impossible (1996) and The Interpreter (2005), as well as Clear and Present Danger (1994) and, according to Deadline, an uncredited pass on Patriot Games (1992), both of which starred Harrison Ford as Ryan. Zaillian's involvement follows drafts by Hossein Amini, Adam Cozad, Anthony Peckham and Cozad again. The trade blog reports that Zaillian is now expected to "bring it home." As previously reported, Jack Bender (Lost) is directing, and the movie, tentatively known as Moscow, is expected to be a prequel (not based on a Clancy novel) set before Jack Ryan ever worked for the CIA. Deadline reports that the script is rumored to feature the horrific helicopter crash that Ryan (Alec Baldwin) recalls in The Hunt For Red October.

The Hollywood Reporter adds that the movie was supposed to start shooting in Budapest this March, but shooting had already been pushed back to some nebulous time in the spring. According to the trade, "Zaillian boarding the project will push the start date further, possibly up to four or five weeks, although Paramount can’t risk any more time since the studio needs Pine for the Star Trek sequel, which will also likely be nudged slightly, but not enough to impact its release date."
500,000th Hit

I missed the exact moment, but the Double O Section quietly reached its 500,000th hit milestone over the weekend. Thanks, everyone, for making that happen!

Feb 1, 2011

New Spy DVDs Out This Week: The Satan Bug

Fox's promised Twilight Time limited edition release The Kremlin Letter is still MIA, but another limited edition rarity we first heard about in November is finally available this week: The Satan Bug, a made-on-demand DVD-R from MGM's new Limited Edition Collection.  It still hasn't turned up on Amazon, but it's available to order from Screen Archives, the same retailer who's supposed to carry The Kremlin Letter.  So if you like sweaty, middle-aged men running around in the desert looking for germs, this is your day! No, no, I'm selling the film short.  I'm not a fan personally (read my full review here), but I know lots of people do like this movie, and it's certainly got a great pedigree.  The Satan Bug is directed by John Sturges (in fact, it was the follow-up to his masterpiece The Great Escape), written by James Clavell (Noble House - review here) from a book by Alistair MacLean (whose material would also serve as the basis for Sturges' spy classic Ice Station Zebra), and stars George Maharis, Dana Andrews, Ed Asner, Richard Basehart and Honey West herself, the (sadly) late, great Anne Francis.